Friday, August 17, 2012


Salt and fat in the foods consumed by human beings, are two constituents which are considered to be critical in controlling many life style diseases like CVD, Blood Pressure, Kidney disorders etc and their reduction in the diet is a necessity to control further escalation of the risks to the health of consumers. These two substances present naturally in many foods. per se do not present any dangers as Nature has made sure that they are invariably present in moderate quantities in most foods but they become a risk when added to foods while processing to enhance the sensory quality to make them more appealing  and literally addictive. Realizing the dangers posed by salt to human beings, sustained campaigns are going on world over to persuade the industry to reduce salt incorporated during processing. Same is true for fat also and here the success rate in making and marketing no-fat and low fat products has been phenomenal. While most foods are amenable to efforts to reduce salt and fat without seriously affecting their organoleptic attributes seriously, Cheese is an exception in that salt and fat are the critical ingredients that decide the acceptability to the consumers.   

"Under pressure to reduce sodium and saturated fats in American diets — especially those of children — the cheese industry has tried to make products with less salt or fat that consumers will like. It has not had great success. "We've made some progress in that arena," said Gregory D. Miller, president of the Dairy Research Institute. "But we have not been able to crack the code." Dr. Miller, whose group is financed by the dairy industry, was referring to efforts to reduce salt, but he had a similar appraisal of the challenges of low-fat cheese. "When you take a lot of the fat out, essentially cheese will turn into an eraser," he said. The trouble with cheese is that salt and fat are critical components, responsible for far more of its character than consumers might think. Salt helps control moisture content and bacterial activity — the starter culture that is added to the milk and naturally occurring strains. All of them can flavor the cheese, for better or worse, as it ages. "Salt serves as a preservative, as a director of flavor development," said Mark Johnson, senior scientist with the Wisconsin Center for Dairy Research at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. "If I remove it, my flavor goes in a different direction." Fat affects moisture levels, too — less fat generally means more water, which can speed spoilage — and helps govern texture, balancing out proteins so a cheese slices properly and feels right when chewed. Because salt and fat both affect moisture, it is particularly difficult to make a product that is low in both".

Cheese is historically an American food consumed in large quantities because it costs relatively less compared to the cost of fluid milk. To a large extent lower cost of  cheese in the US is as a result of deliberate government policy to help the dairy industry which gets fluid milk for making products at practically throw away prices. Fluid milk prices therefore are raised to compensate the producers for the loss incurred due to sale of milk to the processing industry. No doubt Cheese is a highly nutritious food containing more than 30% high quality proteins but its 35% fat content makes Cheese a dangerous food too if not consumed in moderate quantities. The salt content varies from 300 mg (spreads) to 1650 mg (Roquefort) of Sodium equivalent per 100 gm and if cheese is not consumed beyond 30-50 gm a day, the salt present in cheese is unlikely to be of any consequence. The salt need of human body is placed at 5-6 gm (2-2.4 gm of sodium equivalent) a day per person. But imagine the consequences of liberal consumption of more cheese on the health. Though an average American eats about 16 kg of cheese annually, what is surprising is that cheese consumption is more than double this quantity in a country like Greece! Whether Cheese is really the culprit for host of health disorders prevalent in the US is a matter of opinion as the per capita average consumption figure is less than 50 gm a day. What is however more dangerous definitely is the saturated fat content in cheese which can be a factor in obesity development. Dairy technologists will have to double up their efforts to bring down both salt and fat in cheese products and technical problems cannot be cited as an excuse for not doing this.


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